Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bud the Mustang Gets Adopted

My friend Matt Livengood had a little over three months to teach Bud the Mustang everything he needed to know to become an adoptable horse. Bud arrived in April, 100 days before the Extreme Mustang Makeover event in Nampa, ID. By the end of July, Bud was a different horse.

Bud wore his Bureau of Land Management (BLM) neck tag for weeks; he wouldn't let Matt get close enough to put a halter on him. The tag had been Bud's ID since he was rounded up on the Black Rock Desert of Nevada and taken to a BLM holding facility. Bud left behind 50,000 other horses and burros waiting for adoption in BLM corrals.


When I visited Bud the first time he stayed as far away from me as he could in his round pen. He watched me closely and smelled for danger. Bud got his name from his size and resemblance to the Budweiser Clydesdales: he looked like he could pull a beer wagon when he trotted, furry fetlocks flying. Matt hoped his full name, This Bud's for You, would encourage bidders at the Mustang Makeover auction.


The early Bud was a rough-looking, wary guy. He was anxious and didn't look like a happy horse.


Several of Bud's fans were on hand the first time Matt sat on his back at the end of May. Bud was wearing his summer coat by then, which let his dabbles show. By this time, Bud would let his fans feed him grass and pat him.


Matt might have been more patient with Bud than Bud's own mother was. Because Matt never got flustered, Bud had no reason to misbehave.


Bud's a thinker. Once he had time to mull over his new life, he was in with all four feet. He watched, tried, learned, and seemed to enjoy the new activities and experiences. When the Makeover rolled around, the formerly free-roaming mustang was living in a stall, riding in a trailer, and behaving like a saddle horse. Bud was ready to leave Matt for a permanent home.

When I walked up to Bud at the Makeover he greeted me and wanted to know all about me: what I smelled like, what I sounded like, what my shirt tasted like, and whether or not I was going to use those handy human appendages to scratch him. (I did.)

Somewhere along the way, Bud had learned about paper. He decided it was good to eat. One bite and much of the diagram of the trail course he was to follow at the Makeover disappeared. Alayne Blickle, Matt's wife, said Bud just wanted to digest the course. Matt studied what was left and took Bud through his paces as if they were at home in their own arena. Except, at home there wasn't a crowd of people making a big scary noise with their handy appendages. You can watch Matt and Bud here.

"Team Bud," the friends who had come to cheer him on and see him off to his new home, was thrilled when our pair finished the prelims in the top ten and moved on to the finals. We sprang into action and developed a beach-themed routine for the evening performance. Team members ran to the dollar store for supplies, created a cardboard Dalmatian to ride in a borrowed red Radio Flyer wagon, and downloaded and dubbed music. We were sure Bud would have as much fun with the routine as we did.

Matt kept this diagram away from Bud and studied it as they practiced their finale.


Bud turned to show off his dapples as he warmed up.


I made my horse show debut in a Hawaiian shirt when I helped set up beach chairs and a horse-sized beach ball in the arena. Despite Bobby McFerrin singing Don't Worry, Be Happy on his soundtrack, Bud was worried. He saw an even larger crowd of people and an odd collection of objects; his ears hurt from the rock concert-level PA system. Bud wasn't happy.

Team Bud watched its namesake melt down in the arena and knew we'd gotten carried away and pushed Bud too fast.

Matt stayed calm and waited to see if Bud would relax on the beach. He didn't. By the time the Budweiser ad at the end of his soundtrack suggested that "you've said it all," Bud had had all he could stand. Once he got away from the noise and strange sights, Bud calmed down and recovered.

Team Bud huddled in the stands and worried about what kind of home Bud would go to after we'd upset him with our beach idea. My stomach hurt and my mouth was dry while I watched the other finalists' routines.

It was hard to listen to the bidding for our dappled brown, melted down Bud. A woman in back was bidding. She seemed nice; would she get him? Yes. No. Yes; she did!

I wasn't the only member of Team Bud who quizzed his new owner after the auction. When she told me her plans for Bud, I knew she had looked through his temporary loss of composure and seen the sweet, curious, willing horse he is: Bud will be her next extreme trail riding horse.

These events test horses' and riders' ability to go over, under, and through obstacles made of wood, water, and soil. The horses have to back through some obstacles and others move when the horses step on them.

Bud has been elevated to royalty in his forever home: he's now Prince of Bud, or Prince for short. His new human companion is thrilled with his "willingness to learn, calm demeanor, and how fast he picks up on new things." In short, "He truly is my dream horse." No word on how many times her kids have used the excuse, "The horse ate my homework."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In the Boise Markets: Knife Sharpener

After decades of torturing my kitchen knife on grinding wheels in farm shops or scratching away at it with an old, hand held whetstone, now shaped like a partly-used bar of soap, I took my knife to the sharpening parlor. It got a professional treatment.

Michael Givens sharpens knives, and other formerly sharp objects, most Saturdays at the Boise Capital City Market.

Michael the Knife Sharpener let me tell him the story of my knife, how I'd gotten it from a former boyfriend; probably my favorite former boyfriend. Michael agreed that it was an excellent knife. I also appreciate car mechanics who tell me that Troy the Wonder Car is an excellent, and well-cared-for, car.

The Knife Sharpener let me photograph him on a dark, rainy day, while he shaped, smoothed, and buffed my knife.


An oddly-shaped, unwieldy blade I learned was a lawn mower blade sent photogenic showers of sparks flying.


When I had pestered the Knife Sharpener long enough, I went around to the front of the booth to pay for my better, sharper, trimmer knife. Michael's wife and co-worker asked, “You had the lawn mower blade?”


"Oh, no," I said, "That belongs to someone with a lawn--and a house.”

Michael piped up from the back, “Someone who married their favorite former boyfriend.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dusty Doright

I’ve only used the “No” word one time with Dusty Dog. He was crunching something in his teeth after checking out an intriguing-smelling hole in the ground. "Dusty, no”! He rushed over to reassure me, a dead ringer for Oatmeal's dog.

Dusty’s human, Mollie, rarely uses that word, either. His favorite food is Anything the Cat Didn’t Eat (he’s allowed to clean up leftovers). Dusty could help himself to Everything the Cat Didn’t Eat Fast Enough with an short hop onto the chair next to the cat’s bowl. But he stays on the floor. Dusty could chew up shoes, backpacks, sofas, and pillows. But he limits himself to shedding gobs of hair the size of dachshunds on all of the above. Dusty could get into the trash or the closet where his food and treats are stored, but he doesn’t seem interested.

Mollie says Dusty behaves out of gratitude for being rescued from the pound. Another friend, who also saved her dog from the noisy, chaotic pound, says her dog keeps a close eye on her, so she doesn't disappear.

Early this spring, when the sun was rising late, Mollie left for work at oh-dark-thirty. Her work phone rang later that morning. It was her next-door neighbor; he had tracked her down through her employer.

The neighbor had looked out his back window to see Dusty carefully inventorying all the exciting odors in the wrong backyard. Morning light revealed Dusty's wooden stockade fence flat on the ground, keeping the newly growing grass in place. The neighbor worried that Dusty might wander into the street and get hurt.

Mollie was swamped at work and didn't know when she could get away. But she knew her dog. She told her neighbor to address Dusty, point to their house, and say, “Git home!”

Mollie's neighbor did just that. Dusty looked up at the man, considered it, and trotted back to his porch. He was still there when Mollie broke away from work and got home to put him inside and close up his dog door.

When I visited Dusty later that week for his walk, we hung out in back for a while. He stayed in his yard and kept an eye on the neighborhood activities. He likes the view a lot better with the fence out of the way.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Extreme Mustang Makeover, the Bud Edition

As a child, I was enchanted by the story of "Wild Horse Annie" fighting to save America's free-roaming horses. I was desperate to leave boring junior high in snoozeville Minneapolis and head west. I dreamed of spending all day outside on a horse and sleeping under the stars every night.

As an adult, I live in the West and sleep outdoors more than most people would want to. But the "wild" (they're actually feral) horse question is more complicated than it seemed in junior high.


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that almost 50,000 feral horses and burros still roam the western range. The agency, which manages the federal lands where the animals live, also houses a similar number in pens and pastures.

The BLM periodically rounds up and removes some of the horses so they don't interfere with other uses of public land. The agency tries to find homes for them, but their corrals are starting to look like the Humane Society during kitten season. In 2013, only 2,671 horses and burros were adopted, less than half the number adopted in 2005. A steady parade of horses leave the range and end up in the permanent limbo of BLM holding facilities.

A recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report points out that the BLM doesn't actually know how many feral horses roam the West. The NAS detected a lot of guesstimating in the agency's counting process, but was able to conclude that the horse population is growing 15-20% per year.


The report's most discouraging finding is the reason for the rapid growth rate: the BLM's removal program. When there are fewer horses on the range, there's more food for those left; the remaining horses get busy and make more horses. Although birth control would be a humane solution, the NAS doubted that it alone could reduce population growth to a sustainable rate.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation tells the story of the free-roaming horses that fired my imagination as a child. Their Extreme Mustang Makeover springs a handful of lucky horses from BLM limbo and pairs them with experienced trainers. Each pair has 100 days to get ready for the show ring, after which the horses find new homes at auction. The transformation from wary mustang to confident companion was recorded in the documentary Wild Horse Wild Ride. Spoiler alert: get your hankies out; the auction breaks up some close cross-species friendships.

My friend Matt Livengood was selected to participate this year. He's teaching This Bud’s for You (Bud, for short) everything he needs to know to be a safe, relaxed, equine partner for a successful bidder. A group of friends got together at Matt and Alayne's Sweet Pepper Ranch on Memorial Day. After a barbeque, beverages, and bantering, we gathered at Bud's corral to watch his progress.

Matt had Bud's saddle and bridle on before I got my camera out. Bud was already a pro at this part.

Matt had been putting weight on the saddle for many days...

...and even lying across the saddle while he patted Bud, swung the stirrup back and forth, and got Bud used to the strange things people do when they ride horses.

There were lots of human and canine spectators offering Bud advice during his lesson.

Whoa! Once in a while Bud had to stop and collect himself.

Matt kept working with Bud until...he swung up and sat on him. Bud couldn't believe his eyes; there was a person on his back!

Good job, Bud--and Matt!

Matt and Bud listened to each other constantly during the evening.

Bud looked pleased with himself (and relieved) after his first ride.

Bud even followed Matt without a lead rope. It showed he was paying attention and trying to understand what Matt wanted him to do.

Come watch Bud and Matt in Idaho's first Extreme Mustang Makeover at the Nampa Horse Park, July 25-26. If you languished in junior high, dreaming of roaming the West on horseback, this Bud could be for YOU.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Voting a Sort-of Secret Ballot

Twenty-six percent of Idaho’s registered voters participated in our state's recent primary election. I was one of them. Until this primary, I've honored the secrecy of the voting booth (which is a small, flimsy shelf in Idaho).


While I was dashing to the polls on foot (passers-by might have used the verb "lumbering"), I passed one of the candidates I planned to vote for. When I greeted him, he asked if he had my support. As in, would I vote for him?

Rain splattered the candidate and his sign. His ironed shirt was wrinkling and his hair was matting. A chilly breeze swept in from northern Idaho and tried to send his cardboard sign sailing to Owyhee County. I was cold, despite my raincoat and umbrella. I should have offered the man a piece of my rain gear. But, my support?

He didn't know who I was; could I break my rule? Should I lecture him on the sanctity of our secret ballot? Bore him with my story of visiting the U.S. Voting Rights Museum?

He hadn't asked me if I was going to vote for him, only if I would support him.

"You bet," I said, and hurried on. I was relieved when the rain stopped by the time I'd walked/dashed/lumbered another couple of blocks.

When I told the poll worker my name, she knew my party affiliation: Idaho now has closed primaries. Knowing my party doubles the odds of someone knowing how I voted. That must at least halve the secrecy of my ballot.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Farmington, NM Library Remembers the Past, Plans for the Future

The ancient residents of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, tracked the seasons from rock observatories. Current residents of the nearest large town can track the seasons across the stone floor of the library.

When I visited the Farmington, New Mexico library in mid November, the low noon sun touched the edge of the winter solstice marker engraved into the floor.

If I had visited on December 21st I would have found the phrase “Winter Solstice 12:00” framed in light and the solstice celebration in full swing.

On June 21st the noon sun shines from overhead through a window atop the east door of the library to illuminate the summer solstice marker.
The Farmington Library sought community input while planning their new building, which opened in 2003. The cultures and landscapes of northwest New Mexico are reflected in the Native American and high desert motifs of the building.

The main entrance echoes the east-facing doors of hogans on the Navajo Reservation west of town. The central atrium, where the sun traces the time and space between the solstices, is the heart of the building. The library’s collections and services encircle the atrium and follow the cycle of life in a clockwise circuit.

Life’s journey starts in the Juvenile Collection on the south, moves to the Teen Zone in the west, and continues through the adult nonfiction and fiction sections. Multimedia resources and magazines wait on the east side, next to the entrance.

The library’s round design reflects nature in its paucity of straight lines. Chrome bookshelves fan out to in pie slices in the adult section, between the atrium and the glass wall on the north. The round windows in the interior and exterior walls remind me of portholes.

I checked email and downloaded digital photos and GPS coordinates in the Southwest Collection, protected by legions of kachina dolls dancing in glass display cases.


Beyond the rows of kachina dolls, a modern protector watches over the library’s materials. The Farmington Library was the first in the country where patrons check out all their own books and media. Their system uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, instead of the bar codes used at most libraries and in supermarket checkout lanes. The RFID readers in the atrium don’t have to “see” a visible bar code or demagnetize security “tattle tapes.” Borrowed materials just have to be close enough that the machine can scan their RFID tag with radio waves.

Pet owners use RFID tags when they get their cats and dogs “chipped.” If a pet gets lost, their name and owner’s contact information can be read with a hand held scanner.

I first heard of RFID tags in salmon. Thousands of young fish in the Pacific Northwest are tagged and tracked as they swim down the Columbia River on their way to the Pacific Ocean and again when they return to inland streams as adults to spawn and die.

I can't help picturing schools of shimmering books leaving the sea of library shelves and heading out into the world through the east entrance. I imagine the books expanding the minds of fifth graders, retired police officers, aspiring carpenters, and middle school teachers before returning to the stacks. Happily, the books, unlike salmon, make many round trips in their lifetimes.

When books return to the library, they are either walked in the front entrance or driven behind the READ sculpture to the automatic return in back. After patrons slide their returns through the slot, the RFID system checks in the materials and provides a receipt and a coupon for $5 off library fines.

This video shows the system in action. The last part, where materials are automatically sorted into bins, reminds me of the automatic gates that open and shut to sort tagged salmon for researchers to study.

The self check out--and in--system frees the library staff to help patrons and answer visitors’ questions. This has transformed the Circulation Desk of my childhood into the Service Desk in the Farmington Library’s atrium. A whiteboard next to the desk tells everyone they count: the board lists the number of people who visited the library and the number of book they checked out (themselves) the previous day. (A helpful commenter, below, pointed out that the numbers in the photo were from a Sunday, when the library is only open for four hours. On other days, 1050 to 1400 people visit the library.)


The library’s circulation system also freed up a security guard to do a short demo for me. He showed me the postage stamp-sized RFID tags inside each book. Then he showed me what happens when someone forgets to scan a book before they leave the library. We got prompt attention from the Service Desk.

The late afternoon sun had slipped below the southwest windows and the patch of light on the floor had disappeared by the time I left the library. I drove west into the sunset to Shiprock, NM before I turned north toward Boise.


The sun has made ten trips back and forth across the floor of the new library building. Last fall, before the winter celebration, the Farmington Library again asked the community to help plan their future. Area residents shared their ideas and hopes for the library in a time of shrinking budgets and growing populations.

The ancient residents of New Mexico faced their own challenges of dwindling resources. Farmington's modern library is meeting its challenges while grounded in the area’s ancient traditions.